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Opinion | Talking to the Dead in the Sunshine State




We opened our eyes and wrote down in our notebooks what we’d seen. Two stories, I wrote. Woven rug in the entryway. Glass panes in the door. Wood floors. Dining room to the left of the entrance. White candlesticks on the table.

I read this list aloud to Dennis. That was the house he grew up in, he said, the farm.

I couldn’t decide how much of what I’d envisioned of his childhood home was coming from my presuppositions about him, the few details I’d already gathered, or my own psychic abilities. Regardless, there was something beautiful in this activity. Together, Dennis and I had cleared a space in which it was safe to speak of our dead loved ones, and to share the intimate details of our lives, though we were virtual strangers.

The reverend directed us to repeat a version of the activity, this time looking into each other’s eyes. Dennis told me that he’d intuited that my grandmother was a neat housekeeper. She was a great cook and loved gardening. She always had fresh produce. She enjoyed sewing. She lived on some nice acreage. All of this was true except the sewing, as far as I knew, though she did crochet — I asked Dennis if he might have meant to say that she liked crochet. His tableau was a set of clichés about grandmothers, but I was coming to understand that it gave me a set of points on which to palpate my grief with his assistance. There was no harm in us feeling our grief together, and sharing each other’s burden. “When it makes sense, accept and embrace that,” said the reverend, circulating the room.


He explained that, over the years, he’d had to learn to distinguish, in these visions, between realistic and symbolic imagery. They appear side-by-side, he said — but for instance, he often pictures horses, and is aware that horses hold great metaphorical significance for him in his personal mythology. He must not take them too literally when they arise in a reading. He knows that when he sees a horse, he has to translate it, as though interpreting a dream.


I stood on the porch of the Cassadaga Bookstore with some stragglers from the class. The sun was still high, sucking the sweat from our faces, and Nick Christensen was telling us all about guns. He was a firearms instructor, and an 11-year Army veteran, and had been raised with guns since he was this tall. He wore a yellow tee with a screen-printed sunset on it, and the words TRANSCEND BOUNDARIES, a Hawaiian shirt, and an N.R.A. baseball cap embroidered with a bald eagle waving an American flag. “The more education you have, OK, then the more stupid people you run into — and it’s not their fault — ”

“Well, the thing is, they just, they’re not educated,” said his wife, Pat.

“They have every chance that everybody else does, OK, and — ”

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